Reporting from San Diego
They weren't just the shots heard 'round pro football, but ones that could change the game itself.
A day after a rash of brutal helmet-to-helmet collisions, an NFL executive said Monday the league is considering suspending players — and not only fining them — for illegal hits that could cause serious head injuries.
"There's strong testimonial for looking readily at evaluating discipline, especially in the areas of egregious and elevated dangerous hits," Ray Anderson, the league's executive vice president of football operations, told the Associated Press.
"Going forward there are certain hits that occurred that will be more susceptible to suspension. There are some that could bring suspensions for what are flagrant and egregious situations."
The move would dovetail with the NFL's more comprehensive approach to the treatment of concussions and general player safety.
Not everyone agrees with that idea.
"It's football," San Diego linebacker Kevin Burnett said. "If you want to take the collisions out of it, then take the pads off of us, take the helmets off, give us flags, and we'll play flag football. But since I've checked, this is tackle football."
Burnett is under scrutiny for a hit Sunday on St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford, who was leveled as he was scrambling. By all appearances, it was Burnett's helmet that knocked off Bradford's — although the hit wasn't flagged, Burnett argues it was legal, and Bradford later dismissed it as part of the game.
"I would be real disappointed if I got fined," Burnett said. "Three reasons: He was outside the pocket, he lowered his head, and he's a runner now. So where do we draw the line? If I get fined, then he should be fined as well."
Burnett and Bradford finished the game. That was not the case in Philadelphia, where Atlanta cornerback Dunta Robinson flattened Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson. Robinson launched the crown of his head into the lower part of Jackson's facemask, and both players crumpled to the turf. They both left the game because of concussions.
In the Baltimore-New England game, Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather landed a vicious hit to the helmet of Ravens tight end Todd Heap. The Ravens have protested the hit to the league.
"The thing we try to coach our players to do is basically hit in the strike zone," Ravens Coach John Harbaugh told reporters. "Try to make an effort to do that and keep your head out of it. It's not just the safety of your opponent, it's safety for yourself. When you throw your head in there like that, you put yourself at risk. It's just not good football."
On separate plays Sunday, Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison knocked two Cleveland receivers out of the game with head injuries. An NFL spokesman told the Associated Press that the hit to Josh Cribbs was deemed legal, but the league is reviewing the one to Mohamed Massaquoi.
Harrison defended the hits after the game.
"If I get fined for that, it's going to be a travesty," he told reporters. "They didn't call [a penalty] on that. There's no way I could be fined for that. It was a good, clean legit hit. … I didn't hit that hard, to be honest with you. When you get a guy on the ground, it's a perfect tackle."
In San Diego, where one of his teammates is under scrutiny, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said he can understand why the league wants to become more vigilant about policing illegal hits.
"Sometimes extreme measures are warranted when things are getting the way they are," he said. "It's such a violent and physical game. Some of it is unnecessary, though. You hate to see these guys get hurt."
But he added that helmet-to-helmet hits "with most guys are unintentional. They're just reacting and going to the ball. … Guys aren't going out to injure guys."